Today, zarzuela are part of the poupular music culture appealing to a wide range of audiences in nearly all Spanish-speaking regions of the world.Plácido Domingo’s
strong bond with zarzuela aroused his desire to promote this magical form of Spanish operetta and to make it more accessible to an international audience. He appeared in Moreno Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda in Milan, singing – like his father many years ago – the baritone role of Don Vidal. Luisa Fernanda was also performed by Washington National Opera in 2004, at the Teatro Real in Madrid in 2006, and by Los Angeles Opera in 2007.
Traditional Spanish music...
The Spanish Zarzuela is a traditional Spanish musical genre which is frequently compared to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and the Viennese operettas of Johann Strauss. But that comparison also frequently does not reflect the fact that, instead of a dozen or so such works, literally thousands of zarzuelas were written (nearly a hundred of them are still in the current repertoire).
The origin of the zarzuela dates back to the mid-17th Century. Legend says the name originates from a pavillon overgrown with blackberry bushes (zarzas), in a remote section of Madrid’s El Prado Park. Actors gathered at this pavillon to present their plays and to entertain King Philip IV and his entourage. In 1657, the King and Queen attended there the first performance of a comedy by the poet Pedro Calderón de la Barca with music composed by Juan de Hidalgo: El Laurel de Apolo (Apollo’s Laurel). The event gave birth to the music from that would later be called la zarzuela. This vibrant and often picaresque music tradition surged to popularity in the second half of the 19th Century.
The Zarzuela Story Line
Comparable popular musical developments occured in other countries and languages. German and French operettas, the Italian opera buffa and later on, American musicals. Though the essence of the zarzuela remains unchanged today, it’s style has been repeatedly modified through the centuries. The Zarzuela story line was and is inspired by lower-class or bourgeois life (with which the huge popular audiences could and can identify). While the works focus on romantic, political and even tragic themes, they are all imbued with an ample sprinkling of popular Spanish humor. Among the greatest zarzuela composers are Chapí, who achieved the extraordinary feat of composing more than 160 zarzuelas during a 30-year period; Bretón, the foremost champion of Spanish opera, whose 1895 work La Dolores is a through-composed opera, not a zarzuela, with whom Chapí shared the first prize for composition at the Madrid Conservatoire; Guerrero, principally a melodist and a desciple of Conrado de Campo; Soutullo, who wrote his best works in collaboration with Vert; Serrano who achieved his earliest successes at Madrid’s famous Apolo Theater; Alonso, author of more than 100 zarzuelas; Sorozábal, who was trained both in Spain and Germany; and Moreno Torroba, who distinguished himself not only as a highly educated musician, but as a critic and composer for the guitar, besides writing some of the most memorable zarzuelas of recent times. Even though the gaiety of the themes and the vitality of the music can appeal to audiences everywhere, the zarzuela is - not yet - well known beyond these regions.
Lullabies of my Soul
"My dear parents, thank you for bringing me into the world and thank you for the wonderful lullabies that you forever left deeply imbedded in my soul!"
For most of you, Zarzuela is merely a difficult word to pronounce. For me, the word zarzuela represents something very special - they are the lullabies I heard my parents sing during my first days of life, as they gently cradled me in their arms. My parents were both great singers of zarzuelas - this very traditional and very beloved operetta-like music of Spain. So much so that composers of the stature of Sorozábal and Moreno Torroba loved and admired them and selected them for the world premieres of their works - such as Sor Navarra and Black the Clown. My parents concentrated so intensely on their zarzuela throughout Spain, that the world of opera sadly lost two singers of international magnitude...
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